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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

By Bethany Bradsher

Melancholy days of summer drag on

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

On days like today, I miss the baseball haze that hung over my childhood.

Much like the Houston humidity, the omnipresence of major league baseball was part of the environment in my family. If it was dinnertime, then the faux wood TV trays were unfolded, because every one of us ate our evening meal facing the television.

And the program we watched was always the same: An Astros game.

Summer might be the time when schedules were relaxed and days stretched on endlessly, but our calendars were still defined by home stands and doubleheaders, and our homework-free brains turned to careful vigilance over the National League standings.

We followed other sports in their seasons too, but as a young fan, baseball was the most beloved, because it was the companion of my favorite season.

When I left Southeast Texas to come to college in North Carolina, I never lived in a major-league baseball city again, and that happy fog started to lift.

Other fortunate obsessions, notably college basketball, filled the void in many ways. But nothing ever occupied that vacant stretch of hot weather when college basketball and baseball seem like memories and football season feels impossibly far away. When Pirate football countdown calendars fascinate me, I know I’m in the middle of a private sports wasteland.

It’s the same even for the most faithful residents of the Pirate Nation, who were able to hang on to their Diamond Bucs' dreams into early June, but still endure close to three months of inactivity before they can finally dust off the tailgating tables again in late August.

If you’re lucky, you still carry a torch for the Braves or the Nationals, and you can while away the unbearable stillness of the dog days like I used to, with daily analysis of ERAs and RBIs.

But if your baseball haze has dissipated or never enveloped you at all, you are stuck in the Pirate doldrums, and they seem to be more desolate this year than ever. That might have something to do with the fact that inside of one June week, two football players and three women’s basketball players from ECU were charged in criminal conduct.

Michael Bowman and Emanuel Davis won’t get to play in that long-awaited season opener, because their night out on the town turned into an embarrassing shadow on the program Ruffin McNeill and his staff are carefully crafting.

Those football players made a choice they will regret for some time, but when Ashley Clarke, Kim Gay and Crystal Wilson allegedly stole their teammates’ credit card and used it, they splintered the image of teamwork, diligence and unity that had seemed to characterize the Lady Pirates. Heather Macy is a young coach, and her greatest test in leadership lies just ahead as she picks up the debris left by one impulsive act.

Those major missteps sting, especially when ECU teams aren’t doing anything on the field or the court to divert our attention away from suspensions and grand juries. But even as a host of legal trouble darkens the dull sports landscape, the perennial bright spots in the Pirate world offer brief respites. Toni Paisley, gone but never forgotten from Pirate softball, piled more marble on her already-impressive monument this week when she was named the Conference USA Softball Scholar Athlete of the Year.

In another sunny corner, construction is nearly complete on the new track and field facility and the new Pirate soccer complex, meaning that Coach Rob Donnenwirth won’t have to bus his team to North Campus Crossing this year to practice and compete. As the state-of-the-art venues along Charles Boulevard multiply, East Carolina is slowly starting to gain the appearance of a program that can make a dent in the top echelon of Division I.

But for the next six weeks or so, or what feels like forever, we’re stuck here in the doldrums. Until first downs become routine again, anticipation will nourish the Pirate Nation, and fans can make a hobby out of seeking and appreciating the nuggets of good news that might otherwise get lost in the frenzy of competition.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

07/20/2011 06:18 AM

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